Want effective leadership for change in the NHS? Then it’s time to kick off your shoes and go Barefoot

The NHS is in my DNA. I have the pleasure of working at the coal face with clients (mostly CCGs) who want help and guidance to improve their health outcomes and make financial savings. I’m continually in awe of the immense amount of talent and skills that I witness all the time. But those talents and skills are often not used effectively. This is where true leadership can make all the difference.

Most people I meet are embroiled in the daily grind of firefighting. Firefighting the symptoms rather than treating the root cause of the problem. It’s a bit like treating a frequent flier patient in A and E.

But real change in the system is essential for long term survival. The survival of our patients and our NHS.

Stop, Look and Listen

Any system change, whether that’s a specific pathway, or a whole service, needs a leader to stop and take a breath. Yes, that’s right. Stop.

Take stock. And ask…

What are you trying to achieve? And who are the best people to do this? They’re simple questions, but they’re often more difficult to answer. But taking a step back and taking a breath will eventually enable some real clarity to emerge.

If the whole system is struggling then it’s time to listen to the people who work in all parts of the system. Some of the best insights I’ve ever had come not from lead clinicians or commissioners, but from practice managers and patients. So ask them. What works well and what doesn’t work so well?

If it’s a whole system change you’re tackling then you have to listen to the whole system. You can’t just cherry-pick.

Winning the hearts and minds

But how do you get people on board with you? Probably the best way is to involve as many people as possible in scoping out the change that needs to happen. Think of it as taking a diagonal cross section of your system, from the top to the bottom, to review the results of your listening exercises and discuss common themes and possible solutions.

And once you have only 10% of people on board with what needs to happen, the rest will follow. I promise.

Within the cross section of your system, you’ll probably find you have all the right ingredients (talent, skills, experience, vision and enthusiasm) to bring about system change with relative ease.

And with the right ingredients, it just needs the right chef to stir the pot for the best end result. That’s where rapport comes in to play.

Establishing rapport

Real leadership depends on rapport. No, not the cheap 90s aftershave, but the genuine bond successful leaders have with their teams. As a leader you need to learn how best to be accountable to the people you are responsible for. How do you feedback to them? How do you make sure that your promises are not just another round of lip service that previous leaders have spouted?

Ask yourself, if I was working in this system, what would I want the leader to do? And how do I judge they are doing what they promised? When you achieve this everyone knows that you walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

People begin to recognise that you are a leader who can be trusted.

Kicking off your shoes and socks

But what’s all this got to do with being ‘barefoot’?

Being barefoot is the term I use when we combine our conscious self (or our intellectual self) with our true self (our unconscious self).

The most successful leaders are authentic. They are true to their real selves and the people they encounter.

If you want to know more then drop me a line – consultancyinfo@diabetes.org.uk I’d love to chat more about how I might be able to help.